The Dance To Death. Act IV

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  The City Hall at Nordhausen.  Deputies and Burghers assembling.
  To the right, at a table near the President's chair, is seated
  the Public Scrivener.  Enter DIETRICH VON TETTENBORN, and HENRY
  SCHNETZEN with an open letter in his hand.

Didst hear the fellow's words who handed it?
I asked from whom it came, he spoke by rote,
"The pepper bites, the corn is ripe for harvest,
I come from Eisenach."  'T is some tedious jest.

Doubtless your shrewd friend Prior Peppercorn
Masks here some warning.  Ask the scrivener
To help us to its contents.

SCHNETZEN (to the clerk).
  Read me these.

SCRIVENER (reads).

"Beware, Lord Henry Schnetzen, of Susskind's lying tongue!  He will
thrust a cuckoo's egg into your nest.
  [Signed]  ONE WHO KNOWS."

A cuckoo's egg! that riddle puzzles me;
But this I know.  Schnetzen is no man's dupe,
Much less a Jew's.
[SCHNETZEN and VON TETTENBORN take their seats side by side.]

Knights, counsellors and burghers!
Sir Henry Schnetzen, Governor of Salza,
Comes on grave mission from His Highness Frederick,
Margrave of Meissen, Landgrave of Thuringia,
Our town's imperial Patron and Protector.

Gentles, I greet you in the Landgrave's name,
The honored bearer of his princely script,
Sealed with his signet.  Read, good Master Clerk.
[He hands a parchment to the Scrivener, who reads aloud]:

  Lord President and Deputies of the town of Nordhausen!  Know that
we, Frederick Margrave of Meissen, and Landgrave of Thuringia,
command to be burned all the Jews within our territories as far
as our lands extend, on account of the great crime they have
committed against Christendom in throwing poison into the wells,
of the truth of which indictment we have absolute knowledge.
Therefore we admonish you to have the Jews killed in honor of
God, so that Christendom be not enfeebled by them.  Whatever
responsibility you incur, we will assume with our Lord the Emperor,
and with all other lords.  Know also that we send to you Henry
Schnetzen, our Governor of Salza, who shall publicly accuse your
Jews of the above-mentioned crime.  Therefore we beseech you to
help him to do justice upon them, and we will singularly reward
your good will.*

  Given at Eisenach, the Thursday after St. Walpurgis, under our
secret seal.

  *This is an authentic document.

Fit silence welcomes this unheard-of wrong!
So!  Ye are men--free, upright, honest men,
Not hired assassins?  I half doubted it,
Seeing you lend these infamous words your ears.

Consider, gentlemen of Nordhausen,
Ere ye give heed to the rash partisan.
Ye cross the Landgrave--well? he crosses you.
It may be I shall ride to Nordhausen,
Not with a harmless script, but with a sword,
And so denounce the town for perjured vow.
What was the Strasburg citizens' reward
Who championed these lost wretches, in the face
Of King and Kaiser--three against the world,
Conrad von Winterthur the Burgomaster,
Deputy Gosse Sturm, and Peter Schwarber,
Master Mechanic?  These leagued fools essayed
To stand between the people's sacred wrath,
And its doomed object.  Well, the Jews, no less,
Were rooted from the city neck and crop,
And their three friends degraded from their rank
I' the city council, glad to save their skins.
The Jews are foes to God.  Our Holy Father
Thunders his ban from Rome against all such
As aid the poisoners.  Your oath to God,
And to the Prince enjoins--Death to the Jews.

Why all this vain debate?  The Landgrave's brief
Affirms the Jews fling poison in the wells.
Shall we stand by and leave them unmolested,
Till they have made our town a wilderness?
I say, Death to the Jews!

  My lord and brethren,
I have scant gift of speech, ye are all my elders.
Yet hear me for truth's sake, and liberty's.
The Landgrave of Thuringia is our patron,
True--and our town's imperial Governor,
But are we not free burghers?  Shall we not
Debate and act in freedom?  If Lord Schnetzen
Will force our council with the sword--enough!
We are not frightened schoolboys crouched beneath
The master's rod, but men who bear the sword
As brave as he.  By this grim messenger,
Send back this devilish missive.  Say to Frederick
Nordhausen never was enfeoffed to him.
Prithee, Lord President, bid Henry Schnetzen
Withdraw awhile, that we may all take counsel,
According to the hour's necessity,
As free men, whom nor fear nor favor swerves.

Bold youth, you err.  True, Nordhausen is free,
And God be witness, we for fear or favor,
Would never shed the blood of innocence.
But here the Prince condemns the Jews to death
For capital crime.  Who sees a snake must kill,
Ere it spit fatal venom.  I, too, say
Death to the Jews

  Death to the Jews!  God wills it!

Give me your voices in the urn.
(The votes are taken.)  One voice
For mercy, all the rest for death.  (To an Usher.)
  Go thou
To the Jews' quarter; bid Susskind von Orb,
And Rabbi Jacob hither to the Senate,
To hear the Landgrave's and the town's decree.
[Exit Usher.]
(To Schnetzen.)  What learn you of this evil through the State?

It swells to monstrous bulk.  In many towns,
Folk build high ramparts round the wells and springs.
In some they shun the treacherous sparkling brooks,
To drink dull rain-water, or melted snow,
In mountain districts.  Frederick has been patient,
And too long clement, duped by fleece-cloaked wolves.
But now his subjects' clamor rouses him
To front the general peril.  As I hear,
A fiendish and far-reaching plot involves
All Christian thrones and peoples.  These vile vermin,
Burrowing underneath society,
Have leagued with Moors in Spain, with heretics
Too plentiful--Christ knows! in every land,
And planned a subterraneous, sinuous scheme,
To overthrow all Christendom.  But see,
Where with audacious brows, and steadfast mien,
They enter, bold as innocence.  Now listen,
For we shall hear brave falsehoods.


  Rabbi Jacob,
And thou, Susskind von Orb, bow down, and learn
The Council's pleasure.  You the least despised
By true believers, and most reverenced
By your own tribe, we grace with our free leave
To enter, yea, to lift your voices here,
Amid these wise and honorable men,
If ye find aught to plead, that mitigates
The just severity of your doom.  Our prince,
Frederick the Grave, Patron of Nordhausen,
Ordains that all the Jews within his lands,
For the foul crime of poisoning the wells,
Bringing the Black Death upon Christendom,
Shall be consumed with flame.

RABBI JACOB (springing forward and clasping his hands).
  I' the name of God,
Your God and ours, have mercy!

  Noble lords,
Burghers, and artisans of Nordhausen,
Wise, honorable, just, God-fearing men,
Shall ye condemn or ever ye have heard?
Sure, one at least owns here the close, kind name
Of Brother--unto him I turn.  At least
Some sit among you who have wedded wives,
Bear the dear title and the precious charge
Of Husband--unto these I speak.  Some here,
Are crowned, it may be, with the sacred name
Of Father--unto these I pray.  All, all
Are sons--all have been children, all have known
The love of parents--unto these I cry:
Have mercy on us, we are innocent,
Who are brothers, husbands, fathers, sons as ye!
Look you, we have dwelt among you many years,
Led thrifty, peaceable, well-ordered lives.
Who can attest, who prove we ever wrought
Or ever did devise the smallest harm,
Far less this fiendish crime against the State?
Rather let those arise who owe the Jews
Some debt of unpaid kindness, profuse alms,
The Hebrew leech's serviceable skill,
Who know our patience under injury,
And ye would see, if all stood bravely forth,
A motley host, led by the Landgrave's self,
Recruited from all ranks, and in the rear,
The humblest, veriest wretch in Nordhausen.
We know the Black Death is a scourge of God.
Is not our flesh as capable of pain,
Our blood as quick envenomed as your own?
Has the Destroying Angel passed the posts
Of Jewish doors--to visit Christian homes?
We all are slaves of one tremendous Hour.
We drink the waters which our enemies say
We spoil with poison,--we must breathe, as ye,
The universal air,--we droop, faint, sicken,
From the same causes to the selfsame end.
Ye are not strangers to me, though ye wear
Grim masks to-day--lords, knights and citizens,
Few do I see whose hand has pressed not mine,
In cordial greeting.  Dietrich von Tettenborn,
If at my death my wealth be confiscate
Unto the State, bethink you, lest she prove
A harsher creditor than I have been.
Stout Meister Rolapp, may you never again
Languish so nigh to death that Simon's art
Be needed to restore your lusty limbs.
Good Hugo Schultz--ah! be those blessed tears
Remembered unto you in Paradise!
Look there, my lords, one of your council weeps,
If you be men, why, then an angel sits
On yonder bench.  You have good cause to weep,
You who are Christian, and disgraced in that
Whereof you made your boast.  I have no tears.
A fiery wrath has scorched their source, a voice
Shrills through my brain--"Not upon us, on them
Fall everlasting woe, if this thing be!"

My lords of Nordhausen, shall ye be stunned
With sounding words?  Behold the serpent's skin,
Sleek-shining, clear as sunlight; yet his tooth
Holds deadly poison.  Even as the Jews
Did nail the Lord of heaven on the Cross,
So will they murder all his followers,
When once they have the might.  Beware, beware!

So YOU are the accuser, my lord Schnetzen?
Now I confess, before you I am guilty.
You are in all this presence, the one man
Whom any Jew hath wronged--and I that Jew.
Oh, my offence is grievous; punish me
With the utmost rigor of the law, for theft
And violence, whom ye deemed an honest man,
But leave my tribe unharmed!  I yield my hands
Unto your chains, my body to your fires;
Let one life serve for all.

  You hear, my lords,
How the prevaricating villain shrinks
From the absolute truth, yet dares not front his Maker
With the full damnable lie hot on his lips.
Not thou alone, my private foe, shalt die,
But all thy race.  Thee had my vengeance reached,
Without appeal to Prince or citizen.
Silence! my heart is cuirassed as my breast.

Bear with us, gracious lords!  My friend is stunned.
He is an honest man.  Even I, as 't were,
Am stupefied by this surprising news.
Yet, let me think--it seems it is not new,
This is an ancient, well-remembered pain.
What, brother, came not one who prophesied
This should betide exactly as it doth?
That was a shrewd old man!  Your pardon, lords,
I think you know not just what you would do.
You say the Jews shall burn--shall burn you say;
Why, good my lords, the Jews are not a flock
Of gallows-birds, they are a colony
Of kindly, virtuous folk.  Come home with me;
I'll show you happy hearths, glad roofs, pure lives.
Why, some of them are little quick-eyed boys,
Some, pretty, ungrown maidens--children's children
Of those who called me to the pastorate.
And some are beautiful tall girls, some, youths
Of marvellous promise, some are old and sick,
Amongst them there be mothers, infants, brides,
Just like your Christian people, for all the world.
Know ye what burning is?  Hath one of you
Scorched ever his soft flesh, or singed his beard,
His hair, his eyebrows--felt the keen, fierce nip
Of the pungent flame--and raises not his voice
To stop this holocaust?  God! 't is too horrible!
Wake me, my friends, from this terrific dream.

Courage, my brother.  On our firmness hangs
The dignity of Israel.  Sir Governor,
I have a secret word to speak with you.

Ye shall enjoy with me the jest.  These knaves
Are apt to quick invention as in crime.
Speak out--I have no secrets from my peers.

My lord, what answer would you give your Christ
If peradventure, in this general doom
You sacrifice a Christian?  Some strayed dove
Lost from your cote, among our vultures caged?
Beware, for midst our virgins there is one
Owes kinship nor allegiance to our tribe.
For her dear sake be pitiful, my lords,
Have mercy on our women!  Spare at least
My daughter Liebhaid, she is none of mine!
She is a Christian!

  Just as I foretold!
The wretches will forswear the sacred'st ties,
Cringing for life.  Serpents, ye all shall die.
So wills the Landgrave; so the court affirms.
Your daughter shall be first, whose wanton arts
Have brought destruction on a princely house.

My lord, be moved.  You kill your flesh and blood.
By Adonai I swear, your dying wife
Entrusted to these arms her child.  'T was I
Carried your infant from your burning home.
Lord Schnetzen, will you murder your own child?

Ha, excellent!  I was awaiting this.
Thou wilt inoculate our knightly veins
With thy corrupted Jewish blood.  Thou 'lt foist
This adder on my bosom.  Henry Schnetzen
Is no weak dupe, whom every lie may start.
Make ready, Jew, for death--and warn thy tribe.

SUSSKIND (kneeling).
Is there a God in heaven?  I who ne'er knelt
Until this hour to any man on earth,
Tyrant, before thee I abase myself.
If one red drop of human blood still flow
In thy congealed veins, if thou e'er have known
Touch of affection, the blind natural instinct
Of common kindred, even beasts partake,
Thou man of frozen stone, thou hollow statue,
Grant me one prayer, that thou wilt look on her.
Then shall the eyes of thy dead wife gaze back
From out the maiden's orbs, then shall a voice
Within thine entrails, cry--This is my child.

Enough!  I pray you, my lord President,
End this unseemly scene.  This wretched Jew
Would thrust a cuckoo's egg within my nest.
I have had timely warning.  Send the twain
Back to their people, that the court's decree
Be published unto all.

  Lord Tettenborn!
Citizens! will you see this nameless crime
Brand the clean earth, blacken the crystal heaven?
Why, no man stirs!  God! with what thick strange fumes
Hast thou, o' the sudden, brutalized their sense?
Or am I mad?  Is this already hell?
Worshipful fiends, I have good store of gold,
Packed in my coffers, or loaned out to--Christians;
I give it you as free as night bestows
Her copious dews--my life shall seal the bond,
Have mercy on my race!

  No more, no more!
Go, bid your tribe make ready for their death
At sunset.


  At set of sun to-day?
Why, if you travelled to the nighest town,
Summoned to stand before a mortal Prince
You would need longer grace to put in order
Household effects, to bid farewell to friends,
And make yourself right worthy.  But our way
Is long, our journey difficult, our judge
Of awful majesty.  Must we set forth,
Haste-flushed and unprepared?  One brief day more,
And all my wealth is yours!

  We have heard enough.
Begone, and bear our message.

  Courage, brother,
Our fate is sealed.  These tigers are athirst.
Return we to our people to proclaim
The gracious sentence of the noble court.
Let us go thank the Lord who made us those
To suffer, not to do, this deed.  Be strong.
So! lean on me--we have little time to lose.

© Emma Lazarus